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The Sounds of Eight Hands Playing

New York
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
10/02/2008 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sheep May Safely Graze, from Cantata BWV 208 (arranged by Egon Petri)
Robert Schumann: Arabesque, Opus 18
Franz Schubert: Fantasia in F Minor for Piano Four Hands, D. 940
Antonỉn Dvorák: Slavonic Dances Nr. 6, Opus 46 Nr. 6, Nr. 10, Opus 72 Nr. 2, & Nr. 8, Opus 46 Nr. 8
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Rondo in A Minor, K. 511
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 27, Opus 90
Maurice Ravel: La Valse (arranged by Lucien Garban)

“Leon Fleisher and Friends”: Leon Fleisher, Yefim Bronfman, Jonathan Biss, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher (Pianos)

Leon Fleisher & Katherine Jacobson Fleisher (© Jennifer Bishop)

As an admitted political junky anxious for last night’s Vice-Presidential debate, I might have skipped this concert if it was only Leon Fleisher or Yefim Bronfman or the young Jonathan Biss or Mr. Fleisher’s highly talented wife. But putting them all together, what choice was there?

True, I had to postpone for an hour listening to the dulcet tones of Sarah Palin (dulcet if you consider the quacks of a castrated parrot dulcet), but the first chords of Mr. Fleisher playing Bach was pretty good competition to the vocal cords of the Alaskan candidate.

Then again, I was fooled, expecting that for the final work, Ravel’s La Valse, all four pianists would sit around two or four pianos, and deal out eight hands of Gallic exuberance. No, this was a more modest offering, with Mr. Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson Fleisher playing a work brilliantly arranged by Lucian Garban. In fact, only two players played at a time. But when those artists included Bronfman, Biss and the Fleishers, that was hardly a problem.

There was one particularly unique factor in this concert: outside of the Ravel, there wasn’t a single bravura work in the whole program. Not that any work was limp or without technical challenges. But each of the pieces, from the mainstream composers, had a grace, a formality, and an inner satisfaction, rather than making audiences jump up and down.

Then again, each solo work suited the performer. Mr. Fleisher, now 80 and of course with the celebrated illness to his fingers, started with Egro Petri’s arrangement of the loveliest Bach chorale. It was a far cry from his great rhythmic ventures in the past, but what had sometimes seemed cold in his youth now produced the most delicate touch. The lines of the Petri can be more complex than the original Bach, but Fleisher played with transparent ease.

Nothing more need be said about the Schumann Arabesque save that Bronfman played it like a sensitive giant caressing a rose. Jonathan Biss, already at 28 a reputed Classical expert, played the Beethoven Sonata with all the grace needed.

I had never heard Katherine Jacobson Fleisher play before, but she took what I believe to be Mozart’s most tragic piano work, the late Rondo, with an understanding of the pathos. (With such playing, I conceived the possibilities had Mozart lived longer: a far greater emotional pull, more chromatics, more fantasy…..but this is dreamy hypothesis.)

Mr. Fleisher was in all the four-hand works, sitting on the left-hand side of the piano. With Mr. Biss, he played a lively Schubert Fantasia, with rainbows of notes stretching from top to bottom. The Fleisher-Bronfman duo did a very rhythmic set of Dvorák Dances.

But the most stunning work was the last, La Valse, arranged for piano by Lucien Garba with the same feeling as……well, as Ravel arranged Mussorgsky the other way around, from piano to orchestra. Not a note from the original was missing, though obviously the colors were more limited. But the Fleishers played it with the same sensitivity and delight which characterized the entire evening.

Harry Rolnick



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